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Ninzi's First Stage Performace

Ninzi was mentioning about dance practice in her school for about a month and I thought it would be like 'rain rain go away' or 'tinkle tinkle little star' but we grew excited when we were told that she has to buy dress set for her show. Show? yes they were to squeeze in their one dance into Tencholing Pry School's annual concert.

The Team- Her first classmates


Kezang told me that our daughter could really make the dance moves, but she won't show it in front of me at all. So the suspense and the excitement built on to the 26th Sept 2014. It was the show time, I had the full day with her and we took her to her school for dressing and makeup. Kezang landed up doing makeup for all the little girls there.
The Dancer and the Makeup Artist

Getting ready
Then they were taken in their school bus and we drove separately to Tencholing. Her program was seventh on the list. When the curtains opened on item number seven my heart stop for a while. I could see my daughter was trying to locate us in the houseful crowd. When she found us she gave a very shy smile and her hand played nervously with her rachu. That was the cutest thing I ever saw.

When the music began my daughter is a different person altogether. I don't know if I am being unfairly favouring my own child but I couldn't take my eyes of her, because she was the one who was flowing with the music in perfect sync. The maturity and grace in her moves set her apart from the rest of her classmates. My four year old was in total control of the choreography, and I will never understand how her teachers succeeded in choreographing my daughter so beautifully considering how difficult it is to get things done of her at home. Many thanks to her first school, and her first set of teachers for this heartwarming experience and unforgettable memory.

As of now I must have watched the movie over a dozen times but I am not done.



 

Seven Years in Bajothang

September 25, 2014 was officially my last day in Bajothang. This day was never in my plan. Infact I didn't have a plan beyond Bajothang. This just happened suddenly. I wouldn't have left this place for anything, but sometimes we have to make important choices, choices that are more than places and people, choices that are dream come true.
The Last Shot of the Beautiful Place I am leaving behind
I never thought I would spend seven years away from home, and gradually begin to call that strange place my new home but I think Bajothang was written in my destiny. Perhaps it was written for seven years. The seven defining years- the seven years that made me a happy teacher, husband, and father.

Seven years was a lot of time. So many things changed in these many years. First 3 batches of my students would already be in jobs and have started families. People came and went, I am among the few who came and stayed. Seven Years have passed thus. And now is the time.

Tomorrow I will pack my bags for Paro. That's another place away from home yet Paro has always been home. I began my school in Paro and finished my college from Paro and the seventeen years inbetween were spent in that beautiful valley. I am returning home. I am returning to my educational home to be student again, for two more years, to reshape the teacher that I am.

Counting the last days in Bajothang, settling things, meeting people, and attending farewell dinners, I realize I have earned the friendship of best of people in the town, yet because of my activist's activities I am told that there are some people whom I have disappointed, but I am hopeful that someday they will come to love me when they understand what I was trying to do to this place. It was never personal, and when they realize that they will hopefully begin to appreciate what I did. In seven years I dreamt to fix everything in Bajothang but as I pack my bag I can see that I couldn't turn a stone. So next time I must dream twice.

I hope I will find time to return to this place and finish two last projects I have begun here: The Museum in the School and Book Cafe in the town.
Rushing up to meet my personal deadline 
Finishing Touch to the center piece...

It's Almost Ready. 
 

Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?

People are closing the chapter on the Suicide too soon, yet again, as expected. It's just a few of us who thought things will change forever, that the death of two young people hanging by one tree would awaken the country to the grave reality of suicide. Are you going to wait till someone hangs on the tree at your gate? Or will it take someone to hang on your bedroom fan to make it matter to you personally?

Suicide is a very fragile subject, which is differently understood by different people: Some think it's brave act to face one's death, while other say that someone who can't face life's problem is a coward. Some explain how it's an unchangeable fate, while others believe it's impetuous stunt to prove a point.

1957 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Albert Camus makes it sound so simple when he says, “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” Suicides are generally driven by simple problems that could be solved easily over a cup of coffee, if only we could hold on for that long, because it seems that for the victims there is no bigger problem at that point in time. That's why we need to discuss it, and make professional help easily accessible to people in problem. 


March 10, 1997: It was the reporting date for class VIII students in Paro Gaupay. Class VII students were announced to report after Paro Tshechu. I didn't receive my result sheet, which was to be delivered by post in January. However, nobody really bothered about my missing result because they knew I was the best. I had the reputation of being 'the boy who never failed' both at home and in the village. So they packed my bags and sent me on March 10.
My uncle was an army officer and he sent me in an Army DCM truck with several children from army camp. Those kids had received their results and their seat in class VIII were confirmed while I was to visit the headmaster and get my result first. 
The driver uncle accompanied me to the headmaster's office, he looked confident because he heard from my uncle about how good I was. The headmaster knew me well because of the several visits I paid to his office the last year, and he was so pleased to hand over the result without even punishing me for not having submitted postal address like other kids. I have failed in three subjects. Headmaster told driver uncle to take me back home and send me after tshechu holidays, because that's when class VII students should report.
I turned numb with shame and guilt. I was scared. The army driver who heard so much about me from my uncle was thoroughly confused. He reloaded my bags into the DCM and asked me to join him in the front of the truck. I refused his offer and climbed on the back of the truck, where I was alone now because all the other children had passed and were staying back. 
Then as we began our journey back to Dechencholing my fear began to escalate. I couldn't imagine facing the crowd at home. I feared my uncle even in normal times. That's when I decided to jump of the moving truck. I thought to myself- what would they do if I died? Would they forgive me? What if I got seriously injured? Would they forgive me? Hundreds of thoughts asking each other questions and making answers.
I still get cold feet when I think of that moment, that delicate moment when I was ready to jump. Then I sat down and calculated what would happen in the worse case scenario? How much will they scold me or beat me? By tomorrow morning won't everything be over? That decision I took that day, with half my body hanging from a moving truck was the best I took. I thank that 13 year old me for saving me. 
We reached home at dinner time. The army driver knocked on the door, and upon calling he went in and gave a loud salute to my uncle, who was having dinner with houseful of family members - we usually have no less than 15 people seated at a meal. 
"So you are back from Paro?" Asked my uncle,
"Yes Dasho" Army driver replied. I could hear the beat of my heart in my mouth.

"Did you reach my boy to his school?" 
"No Dasho, I brought him back."
"Why?"
"He has failed, and Headmaster told him to come after Paro Tshechu."
All 15 people in the house laughed long and loud, and amidst their laughter I made my entry with a timid smile. They laughed more. And I laughed too. Someone went to pick my plate and I joined them. Nobody even scolded me.

The fear, shame and guilt were my own construction for which I nearly jumped of the truck. Over the funny dinner I thought what would have happened to this wonderful dinner if I had jumped.
After that year I never looked back. I rebuilt my "the boy who never failed" reputation at home and in village. Became the first boy from my village to quality from class X, and from XII. Got degree and became a happy teacher. 
 

My Muscles, Before They Disappear

Four months ago I took a daring decision to join gym, despite being a financially challenged teacher, because I realized that I was pampering my body and letting it age too soon. People like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were from my mother's generation and suddenly they started looking younger than me. I knew I could never have their kind of muscles but I didn't want the potbelly that was slowly appearing.

For the first few days I was into building stamina and burning calories, and by the time I knew I was into making muscles with the senior members. Nobody really comes there to make muscles but everybody lands up building it after a while, that defines men.

I enjoyed the discovery of so many muscles in our body and the ways to develop them. There are ten muscles I work on every week and their growth is inspiring. Perhaps, men should explore the beauty of tangible things like their body before they venture into exploring abstract things like their mind or their life. A good face is god's gift to you, you don't have a choice, but a good body is your gift to yourself, and you do have a choice. Once in a lifetime you must define the beauty of your body.

Four Month Old body, photographed so that I can remember.
The gym is not just a physical place but a very relaxing haven in the evening after a hard day's work, to sweat, scream, joke and chat with friends. Different kinds of people come there with different stories- and leave with different bodies. As an amature I took all the effort to learn the exercises and the literatures. It's here that I learned the difference between Mass and Fat, and it's here I understood that gym is not just for losing weight because I put on over 10 kg on my bones.

Of the many teachers who joined together only three survived so far, and people curiously ask why do teacher want muscles. I correct them that we are not teachers wanting muscles but men wanting muscles. We build so that we don't have to fight at all in life- muscles are signs of non violence- when people see your muscles they will resort to peace talk rather lol.

Thanks to Power Gym, Bajothang
And Trainer: Jambay
 

Suicide on Social Media

The Bumthang double suicide incident was terribly unfortunate. It has been bothering me for days like it must be doing to many people across the country. While I don't know what to feel about the two misguided victims, my heart goes out to the parents who would be half dead in grief, and wondering where they went wrong in bringing up their children. They will often ask why their child disregarded them and left them for a stranger whom the child just knew for a year in the school. They will forever hang on to the shattered pieces of hope and seek silent answers. What was their fault?

In the midst of this painful event, the leakage of the depressing picture of the victims into the unforgiving social media must have devastated the family members. The pain of having to see it on social media, to know that everybody is watching the death of their child, will kill them piece by piece.

While I strongly condemn the sharing of the picture of the victims, and extend my appreciation to the many responsible and learned people who came forward to fight the spread of the picture that day, I think that the picture was a loud alarm clock to many strong policies that are sleeping in the pages of thick books.

There are three things that the unfortunate incident has fortunately brought to the national focus:

1. Suicide in Bhutan

Suicide among Bhutanese was long seeking attention from us but we weren't so passionate about dealing with it, at least I haven't seen anything significant happening to take care of it. Great many things must be happening in papers but this photo has finally told everybody that it's time take things beyond books and meetings.

2. Ugliness of Suicide

Suicide is murder of self, when your friend commits suicide, he kills your friend, he is a murderer, he should be hated and ridiculed but among us we share so much of compassion for the murderers, going to the extent of paying tribute, writing poems, singing songs... which I fear has glorified the idea of suicide. But the depressing picture has shown the true and ugly picture that suicide is.

3. Social Media Invasion 

The police did a good job by responded very promptly on the distribution of the picture on social media that very day, already today they have tracked down the person who has started it all. He was a health worker who was part of the investigation team. What are the charges against him? Does he even know that it was illegal?
Some of us will have the heart to know that it's wrong to do that but how many of us know that it's a punishable offence?
It's not very long since we dealt with case of sharing of homemade sex videos via mobile apps, some of which are already in the court of law. But I am still wondering how they will be charged and how that will help solve the future problems.
We are already under invasion from the social media and more than what happens in life will be reflected online. It's time we take social media seriously, define it and educate people on the netiquettes before the next big disaster happens.

 

Face of Buddha on the Rock (Update)

My last post Face of Buddha reached far beyond my regular audience. It has fascinated people all over. I was counting happiness on my blog, it's the moment we bloggers dream to see. The story has done magic to my blog, it was as if the story was long waiting to be told. But more than what the story did to my blog, this time I pride in what my blog has done to the story. I was seeking attention for what seemed like an ignored Face of Buddha but it turned out that the people have never heard about it, not even the oldest of people here. It was as if they waited for this moment, now people are all over the place.
Face of Buddha
Before it went viral I accompanied group of my colleagues to complete what was left half done, to go up close to the face of Buddha. The path leading to the site was worn, it was walked by thousands across the generations. How the gigantic natural art piece never caught generations of eyes remains a mystery. Standing right before the overwhelming rock, it's hard to make out the face distinctly. The eyes, the cheek, the nose, the lips and the chin that look perfect from across the river are just natural fault lines on the almost flat rock face. This confirms that there is no human manipulation at all. The compelling image of Buddha's face is a natural composition of fault lines, their shadows, and the color texture. The rock is almost two dimensional but from a distance it three dimensional. It's magical.  
Close Up
It was on Sunday I posted the story and by Monday I started receiving pictures from people who went there to see for themselves. By Wednesday the site was crowded with people, and that evening authorities decided to put fence around it. Today when I went there I could see long queue of people across the river, and many breaking through the fence already. On the other side of the river cars and people are causing traffic jam on the national highway. This is more than the attention one can ever ask for.

From the View Point
Long Queue of People 
Some people jokingly call me Terton PaSsu Lingpa and I funnily wish but like I shared in the last post, I wasn't the one to see it first. My friend Yam Rinzin show me a picture from his phone a few months ago. Today he told me that he was told by his lady colleague Tshering Yangzom, who seemed to have seen it through her window, which was facing the hill. That makes her the tertonma. 

I humbly accept the credit of making it public. It gives me great pleasure to see overwhelming number of people gathering around there and wondering how on earth it happened. Number of people will increase by the day, and in seeing the compelling image on the rock, good thought will be evoked in their minds and prayers on their lips. Perhaps this is my parting gift to the place where I lived for seven defining years of my life.   
Visitors (Even a Mobile Bakery has reached there!)

 

Face of Buddha

It's my seventh year in Wangdue and I have lived it well. I have considered it my home. I have explored so many corners of this place and wrote so many stories. There are places I should have been to but I have no regrets because I haven't spared the ones around me.

However, after all these years, and all these stories I wasn't ready to accept that I had missed on a very special landmark. It was right there for anybody to see, large and distinct and unbelievably very close. It's an image of Lord Buddha's face formed out of natural rock, not even carved. I don't understand how this has not become a sacred place, when people are ready to accept a hole on the rock as Khandrum's buga or Guru's footprint.

The Buddha Face rock is located on the elephant shaped hill on which the Wangdue Dzong is built. The face is distinctly visible from across the river, anywhere between the Wangdue Bridge and the Damchen Fuel Pump.
The location of Buddha Face (Not exact but somewhere very close) 
 The special rock could be an amazing geographical accident, but accidentally it could have looked like anything else but Buddha's Face. There are lots of rock we worship that are naturally intriguing and there are other man made places that are equally overwhelming. I have been very selective in appreciating those places but when I saw this rock I could not believe it. It's so authentic. It can't for for nothing.
You don't even have to believe to see it!
I don't know how it looks close up because I haven't been right there though it's accessible by foot, the foot paths are running all around it. But from across the river it's nothing less than the calm face of Buddha. I don't understand how this place is not recognized as one of the holy Buddhist sites, though some people already knew about it. I went to verify after I saw a picture in my friend Yam Rinzi's mobile. Only after seeing it for myself, and getting convinced beyond all doubt I dared to blog about it.

Disclaimer: I am NOT the first person to see it.
 

Bhutanese Mask Collector

Forgive my ignorance but I have never heard of any Bhutanese Mask Collector, or for that matter any sort of collector. We consider that as the prerogative of foreigners. I have rather heard of Bhutanese smugglers who buy antique mask to be sold in black market across the border, never to be seen by any Bhutanese ever. I have also heard of foreigners who collect mask, antiques and ingenious art pieces and fly them away from Bhutan. Many of us are more than happy to see our priceless art pieces fly away overseas.
Believe it or not, there is a Bhutanese who is doing his share of collection. He won't let us sell all our arts to the foreigners. His name is Kelden Jigme Namgay (Call him KJ). You won't believe he is just a two year old if you see his mask collection. This afternoon I went to meet him and with the approval of his parents and grandmother took pictures of him and his collection.  
KJ with his collection
He is not only the youngest mask collector but also perhaps the only collector in Bhutan. He is just an ordinary little boy who is born among the kids who love wearing Spiderman and Batman mask but quite strangely KJ started asking for scary Bhutanese masks ever since he could demand for toys. Sometimes he would ask for a specific mask and his parents have to scan all the handicraft shops. His collection is built mask by mask, from Paro, Thimphu and Bumthang. He knows the masks by their names and can even locate where each of them are bought from.
The Collector. Photo Source: His Parent's Collection
It was this summer that his parents could finally make him happy after finding the last missing piece in his collection: The Dudhar Mask, the white mask worn in the dance of death. They couldn't find it in any of the handicraft shops. It was finally found in Paro Airport handicraft shop. He almost rescued it.

The Last Mask: Photo Source: His Parent's Collection
It's hard to say if KJ was born with that interest or he acquired it later but one thing that we must acknowledge is the way people around him nurtured his unique passion. Children of his age are after Ben10, Chota Bhim, Spierman, etc but remember no child is born with love for cartoon films, it's the lazy parents who let such movies babysit their children and overtime they tend to like it. We force children to like cartoon movies but KJ's parents and grandma didn't let that happen. They let him be different.

KJ lives with his parents and Grandma in Punakha.
Enjoy his collection:

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Our Cup of Pesticide?

I love tea, I love it best without milk because milk spoils the true color and aroma of the tea. I prefer slipping it from a transparent cup because seeing the color makes it more tastier. I had all the reason to believe that I was drinking the healthiest drink until I read a Kuensel report on how imported tea could contain pesticides. 
My Cup of Pesticide (?)
Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is soon going  to conduct tests on all tea brands coming to Bhutan, which is not very late yet. Despite worrying if we have the technology and capacity to undertake the test I am very hopeful that lives will be saved across generations. Going by the Green Peace India's report as given in that Kuensel article, pesticide residues were found in all 49 brands tested, of which 29 brands contained mix of more than 10 pesticides. Out of the 34 different types of pesticides found in different tea brands, 68 percents are not approved to be used in tea cultivation at all. 
Then are the tea brands coming to Bhutan among those 49 tested? Perhaps all of them are, which means we were consuming pesticides all our lives. If it were vegetables or fruits, which definitely contain high deposits of chemicals from pesticides, we could partly wash them before consuming but how can we wash tea? Therefore we could be sipping huge amount of toxic chemicals from tea than anything else.
That perhaps answers why cancer has become a common disease in Bhutan? It's increasingly becoming common for people who never smoked or drank to die of cancer and we silently take it as a disease of fate. If we do a serious research on the cancer patients, we might reach the conclusion that they were heavy consumers of tea. I have seen so many deaths in my Dzongkhag Haa caused by cancer, while there could be several other chances but more than anything we Haaps are tea addicts. Just in one sitting one Haap would drink more than a regular family could drink in whole day. Tea begins the day and tea ends it. Imagine the amount of pesticide they are consuming. 

I have always been a proud black tea drinker but now I feel like I was drinking the most refined cup of pesticide all this time. While it's early to conclude before BAFRA completes their test, I think there is no surprise left given the results in Green Peace India's compilation. Therefore, it's time to ask, is it safe to drink as much tea as beer? 
Tea Plantation in Assam
Southern Hills of Bhutan are most ideal for tea cultivation considering the popularity of Darjeeling tea but god knows why we never made an attempt to grow our own tea!
 

Breaking the Shoemaker's Curse

In 1920s Germany, there lived two young brothers, Adi Dassler and Rudi Dassler, whose father worked in a shoe factory and mother ran a small laundry business. The brothers went to the shoe factory with their father, and later began making their own shoes in their mother laundry room. They began 'Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory', which prospered.
Turning point was in 1936, then Adi drove all the way to Olympic village with a suitcase full of their shoes, and made an African American sprinter wear their shoes. The sprinter went on to win four gold medals and that made their shoes shined best in the sport world. Then World War II set in and the brothers were divided. They became rivals.
Rudi started his own firm and called it Ruda (Rudi Dassler), which was later re-branded as Puma, and Adi stared his own firm and named it Adidas (Adi Dassler). This is the story of two greatest shoes makers- Adidas and Puma.

My interest in the German brother began in 2011 when Dawa Drakpa started ShoeVival, a shoe laundry, the first of its kind dared by a Bhutanese. His parents had sent him to get a degree in BSc Nursing from Bangalore, but to their disappointment he returned from Mumbai with a shoe laundry franchise, and without the degree. Unimaginable, but that's the strangeness of destiny.

In a society that has chronic traditional hierarchical ego, where mending shoes was always associated with expat cobbler families, a young Bhutanese university student proudly establishing a brand was a history in itself. He broker the curse. Overnight he turned what was earlier perceived as 'dirty job' into a sexy profession. He made a strong statement, and most importantly he lived the example well.
Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club
How much adventure can one have in a shoe laundry business? Wait until Dawa Drakpa rode with Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club on their gorgeous Royal Enfield monsters to 'Help Shoe Bhutan'. His laundry collected, refurbish and loaded 5996 pairs of shoes on the back of a DCM truck that followed the bikers across the country. They distributed shoes and collected smiles from so many corners of the country, they reached some places where no shoe has reached and touched some feet that were never touched by shoes.

After 5996 shoes, perhaps it dawn on him that if he gave man a shoe, it ends with that shoe, but if he taught man how to mend his shoes then it will last across all the shoes the man and his neighbors will ever have in their lives. This is the beginning of another adventure for the shoe man.

Help Shoe Bhutan trip to Gasa
He is now on a long journey to saw his seeds across the country. As I write this story, he must be somewhere in Bumthang teaching school students his trade. He is now setting up Help Shoe Clubs in fifteen school across the country. The journey began in Dashidingkha MSS in Punakha where the club is set up and students were given thousands worth of tools and million worth of skill and inspiration. The man his travelling east and he is going to inspire many Dawa Drakpas on his way, and perhaps a few Dassler brothers.

These are the schools in the first phase list: Dashiding MSS, Sherubling HSS, Jakar HSS, Yadi HSS, Phayum HSS, Tashigang MSS, Rangjung HSS, Baylling HSS, Samdrupjongkar MSS, Sonamthang MSS, Damphu HSS, Sarpang HSS, Dagana HSS, Nangkhor HSS & Nanglam HSS. 
Help Shoe Club in Trongsa Shrubling hereby certified!
One day there will be a time where every Dzongkhag will have a Bhutanese professional cobbler who is proud of his job, and one day the expat cobblers who lived in Bhutan for over three generations will close shop and say, "Saaaala, Now Bhutan has changed", and that day you know whom to remember.
Pride of my generation.
I am proud to be born in the crazy generation with people like Karma Yonten, Farmer Sangay and Dawa Drakpa. The thrash man, the Farmer, and the shoe man.
 

Democracy and Love Marriage

When I was invited to speak to Democracy Club by their club master Ms. Sangay Lhaden I was sure that the members would want to listen to anything but democracy. They have been listening to so much about it that any more theory would make them want to leave the club.
With Drukyul Decides I- Photo by Sangay Lhaden
I began by introducing the three signed books they received as gift from the author, Gyambo Sithey. The books are about everybody, everything, everywhere minus the rumors about the first two elections and the five defining years between them. If schools are seriously meaning to make differences through democracy club then they should consider investing in the books. I have shared this with Election Commission of Bhutan and perhaps the schools might receive it for free. Fingers crossed.

I was done with the books and now had to say something about the subject they have already heard too much, to many times. The following is the organized and edited version of my original random talk.

Democracy is like marriage, love marriage to be specific, you choose you own leader, I mean spouse. The courting and dating is the campaign period and finally you cast your vote one day without anyone's influence. The 100 days pledges go well in marriage but after a year you begin to see that the mole on her cheek is too big, that his snoring is very disturbing, that her nagging is not cute and then there will be nights you sleep angry, mornings you wake up sad and there are hundred little things you fight about, forgetting that you chose that person from among 7 billion people on earth.

But then one morning you say sorry and you love again, laugh again and everything works perfect. That's human. That's how real relationship works. You can't go on smiling when you are slapped, you can't forgive when he comes home late every night, you can't be and shouldn't be obsessively in love at all times because it's not Bollywood movie.

But you also don't hate your wife permanently for scolding you, you have to love her when things settle down and when she gives you that smile. You don't hate your husband forever for forgetting to wish your on your birthday, you have to love him when he takes out a surprise gift. You have to be human or you will be divorced. And in divorce both lose. Family fails.

That's how democracy has to be. You can't religiously support one party or oppose another at all times. Good decisions and bad decisions are made- success of democracy depends on how we react to that.And our reactions depend on which group we are in among the three: The Lovers, The Haters, and The Concerned Citizens.

The Lovers are the ones who swear by one party, and regardless of how good or bad the decision the party makes they will not move an inch into disagreement. They are like a obsessive husband who could go and hug his wife after she has thrown a hot pan on his face.

 Contrary to that The Haters are the ones who turn blind eyes to all the good things a party does and suddenly becomes so loud when they see a flaw. They are like an angry husband who would slap his wife even when she gifts him a bouquet of flowers.
My Illustration of Democracy
If we have more of these two groups of people then democracy is at risk. They could fail a country. Therefore we must strive to be and saw the seed of The Concerned Citizens in our youth. Educating and inspiring them to grow the heart that is courteous enough to acknowledge the good even if it's done by an enemy, and courageous enough to condemn even when the wrongdoer is a friend. That like a very human and loving husband.

The only difference between marriage and democracy is that in democracy you go to poll every five years and change the government if you don't like it...

 

Audience With His Majesty

My greatest dream in life, like any Bhutanese dream, is to stand in front of my king someday with the guiltless satisfaction of having done my job well. For that I have been working every day in preparation, honing my skills, molding my attitude and defining my dreams. But I never thought I would be so lucky to blessed right here in the beginning of my journey. I was greatly honored and humbled to be granted a personal audience with His Majesty the King yesterday, August 10, 2014. This day shall inspire me in seeking meaning in my living, and I thank all the people who wished me well to see this day.

I had a sleepless night of countless thoughts, I was struggling for words to describe that powerful emotion within me, it's like having won the Nobel prize. I was recollecting every word His Majesty said to me during the overwhelming two hours I spent at the Lingkana Palace. It gave me goosebumps remembering how much His Majesty knew about his ordinary subjects like me. It's so heartwarming to realize that the king is watching everyone of us everyday, he cares about our efforts. He knows who is doing what, no matter where in the world we are. He understands our ordinariness, and therefore the royal expectation of us is nothing extraordinary. He wants us to do the best that is ordinarily possible of us. Because so much is possible.

His Majesty's expectation of his people reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.'s words,
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

His Majesty expressed his regard for my humble efforts, and reminded me of the long way that lies ahead of me. His Majesty wishes to see consistency, dedication and humility in what I do. His Majesty gave his blessings on my blogging passion and inspired me to be socially active and responsible citizen. He advised me to remain locally useful and globally relevant at all times.

The joy and fear of carrying the king's earnest words weigh equally and heavily on my soul, and I am going to put every piece of myself and every piece of this life to thank His Majesty in action. There is so much to do, and long way to go before I truly deserve the royal audience I was granted.
With His Majesty, 2009 Convocation 
 

First Dzong in Haa

Let alone the rest of the country even most Haaps won't know that we had Dumcho Dzong in Haa before Wangchuklo Dzong. The present Dzong was built in 1913 by Gongzim Ugyen Dorji after Dumcho Dzong was destroyed by fire that year. Dumcho Dzong was located somewhere near Lhakhang Karpo in Dumcho, about a kilometer away from the present dzong.
Except for the ruin of the foundation, there is no trace of Dumcho Dzong, which was once a power house of the region. One record suggest that Dumcho Dzong was built in 1895 after the establishment of post of Haa Drungpa but going by the only picture I ever saw of Dumcho Dzong taken in 1905, it has to be way older than recorded.
Gongzim Ugyen Dorji posing in front of Dumcho Dzong (1905)
The picture taken by John Claude White in 1905 is the only visual evidence of how the disappeared piece of history looked like in its glorious days. Eight years later, 1913 the Dzong was heavily damaged by the fire and instead of reconstructing it a new Dzong was constructed at a new location- Wangchuklo Dzong.

Every time I see an old picture of our past I thank John Claude White, it was this man who left us priceless treasure trove of our history. He was a close friend of our first king Ugyen Wangchuk who was then the Trongsa Penlop, and I say the friendship was evident in the amount of time and films White invested in shooting every aspect of Bhutan in the early days. I am now on the mission to get a copy of John Claude White's book "Sikhim & Bhutan: Twenty-One Years on the North-East Frontier, 1887-1908" hoping there will be more pictures of our past than the dozens I could get on internet.

Wangchulo Dzong
Today I am sent on a long history trip by the inspiring historian Tshering Tashi. He posted the picture of Dumcho Dzong that took me on a nostalgic journey back in time. This is not the first time Tshering Tashi has inspired me, there were many moments where he would post a piece of historic record and I will be lost in time. Today after I saw the picture, which was the first ever picture I saw of the Dzong, I went on internet hoping to find more of it. But turned out that it's so rare that it's not even included in the huge collections of White's pictures. But on my way I found so many pictures I have never seen before. I even called my mother to confirm about the location of the Dzong before I illustrated the following map. Thank you Au Tshering Tashi, you inspire me, you make history exciting, and you make me believe.

Illustration of Location of Dumcho Dzong and Wangchuklo Dzong
 

People Who Should Not Drink

I told you Bajothang has over hundred places to drink. In these hundred places how many people must be drinking every night. I go out with Kezang and our close friends often and saw different people drinking different drinks differently in different places. Because I drink very little and manage to remain very composed I land up watching dramas of drunk people.

It's shocking to discover that Bhutanese are gifted drinkers, almost everybody can drink anything. Everybody talks in English. One day English will become official drunk language. I hate the kindness in the bar, everybody wants to get you drunk. If you drag that person and ask him to buy a dinner he might run away. That sort of kindness.

Anyway, today is Tuesday and I hope some of you didn't drink so let me present to you some of my findings and analysis after witnessing the endless drunk drama for the last many years. I have shortlist 12 groups of people who should not drink and justified why. Please check if you should fall in one or more groups listed below and reconsider you drinking habit. Of course if you are already drunk you won't care which group you are in.

Be kind to yourself and Don't Drink...
  1. If you are under 18, that's the only legal restriction against drinking, at least respect that. 
  2. If you are sick and doctor has advised you against drinking. Don't waste national healthcare resources if you are purposely ruining your health.
  3. If you are a tanker. Because you will regret the bill next morning, that is if you have paid. Again that liver inside you is not as greedy as you.
  4. If you lose consciousness, because anything could happen to you. You don't want to wake up naked in a stranger's home.
  5. If you sleep in the drain, because you will feel very cold in the morning. If it rains then you may drown, and become the first man in Bhutan to drown in a foot deep drain. Try setting better records.
  6. If you become aggressive and pick up fights with everybody who looks at you, because you don't want to be beaten like a snake and still wake up in prison. That's little ok compared to all the strength you showed on kicking stray dogs, and asking them to fight you back. And worse even, when you start punching window panes and car windows- you don't want to wake up to thousands of Ngultrum damage bill.
  7. If you become emotional, because you will cry and make people listen to your endless bollywood story and in between you will land up leaking all your dirty secrets and next day you will see that you have ruined some relationships. 
  8. If you become Bill Gates after two shots. It's called Asha Passa in Dzongkha. You become the center of attention for being everybody's sponsor and you know what will happen after reaching home. You only feel like Bill Gates but you know you are not Bill Gates. 
  9. If you are going through a problem in life, because you already have a problem why do you need more? (Contributed by Kelzang Dawa)
  10. If you suffer from hangover the next morning because that makes you the dumb ass who pays to get sick.
  11. If you are driving, because if you die your family will not get insurance. They will only get your bloody body in pieces. At least die with honour and leave behind something. 
  12. If you are a parent, because no kid will give a damn about what a drunkard parent says. 
  13. If you are married, because divorce is already rampant, you don't have to contribute.
  14. If you can't pay the bill. Do I have to say anything about this? At least earn something in life before you settle on drinking. You don't want to look like one of those beggars who gets sworn by everyone. Remember your parents' money is not yours, so don't waste their money on your drinking.
I hope it didn't offend anybody, in case it did offend you please stop drinking. Coming back to myself, I am over 18, I am not sick, I am not a tanker, I don't lose consciousness, I don't sleep in drain, I am not aggressive or emotional, of course I get romantic with my wife, and I pay my bill, therefore I sometimes feel I can drink but then I realized that I am married and I have children and I owe them respect. I drink responsibly but that ain't no good excuse. I drive after drinking and that makes me one very socially irresponsible man. Therefore, I am reconsidering. You?

Good Night 

 

Diamond Ring from a Facebook Friend?

This is a story about how some Bhutanese were defrauded on Facebook. Similar fraud made news once during the email days, where people were declared winner of million dollar lottery and asked to pay few thousand dollars to claim their prizes. Some seemed to have silently dreamt of million dollars and blindly jumped into the traps. That news should have be enough to caution us against any similar promises we receive over the internet. But some sort to learn the lesson the hard way.

Facebook is now a world of its own. People make career out of being on Facebook and some are professional frauds. That's their full time job. They write to thousands of people across the world with perhaps thousands of accounts. The old trick comes in new bottle. I have received hundreds of messages from beautiful girls, of course they are using fake identities, claiming to like my profile and seek my friendship. But interesting they ask us to write to them in their email addresses and not Facebook, which is when you have to know they is something fishy. When you don't reply them for over a day, you will notice that the account is deactivated and message gone.

Few months ago, a lady friend who was having a difficult life as single mother joyfully shared about her new found friend from the US. She told my wife that the man was sending her an iPad and iPhone. They have also planned to meet in Bhutan later this year. We were so happy for her. Her man was a captain on some ship and has sent her his picture too. He was a bit older but she was happy about that. They were even calling each other on the phone.

One day she called my wife to ask if we could help her get her parcel form Bangkok because seemingly her parcel was stranded in Bangkok for some reason. She has the postal number for the parcel. We told her that it's just matter of time. Then one day she was looking for money and she disclosed to my wife that she had to send $1000 to claim her parcel. Her man was on the ship and he was helpless. That's when I knew it was a fraud. I told her through my wife, to tell him she can wait until he reaches a seaport to clear the parcel from Bangkok. He told her that if she waits the parcel could be lost. Then we played smart and told him that we will send our relative in Bangkok to collect the parcel. Next moment his Facebook account was deactivated and his number was switched off. We could rescue her. Though we shattered her dream.

Not even a month passed when when my wife heard another woman excitedly talking about some parcel arriving and stranded somewhere. She was someone we knew closely and my wife told her our friend's story, only to discover that she went through almost the same script. She later confided to my wife that she already sent Nu.40,000 and because there was a diamond ring in the parcel she was asked to send Nu.100,000 more. She was almost ready with the cash when my wife rescued her.

Another friend my wife rescued was an old friend in Paro who was receiving generous help from a man overseas in getting the US visa. We were in Paro to drop our son when she invited us over to her place. She had lots of business plans before but we found out that she has dropped all the idea because she was readying to fly to America. We told her not to send any money before receiving the visa if he really means his help, and if he is a fraud he will cut all contacts with you. That happened.

These are the stories of three ladies that I knew of, and I can guess that there could be lots of male victims looking at the number of messages I am receiving from frauds posing as girls. Just that man won't admit it easily.

There could be hundreds of such stories hidden under heavy debts and humiliation, if only they could come out and tell their stories the next hundred could be saved. Bhutan is increasingly chasing American dream and many people silently and blindly go to any extend. We must warn people around us, especially those that are not very familiar about social media. I have highlighted the key words that frauds have used with those three ladies, let innocent people around you take note of them. Let them know that there is nobody so kind out there who would send them anything just by being a Facebook friend- Not diamond ring at least. It's common sense.
 

Being the Change, Beyond Complaining

I spent my summer vacation well. I attending workshop by the day and met friends in the evenings. I made some new friends and caught up with old friends. I interviewed a several people and several people interviewed me. I met with some people with whom I have always wanted to meet. I am soon blogging about them.
Animated Introduction. Picture: BCMD
I know you don't like reading about workshops, neither do I but this workshop was different. This workshop was not about some far-fetched theories and endless handout that would go to dustbin on the way back home. It was neither one of those namesake workshops to finish certain budget. It was about awakening, about realizing our power to change things, small things around us. We spent five days inspiring ourselves and the next five days going out into the real world to make real changes.

The workshop was called Community Mapping, technically it was about locating issues and asserts in the community and getting it literally on the map. We were carrying Android phones loaded with unicef GIS mapping app. The app helps in pinning the pictures we take onto the map using Global Positioning System. But that's just the tool, the soul was how we go beyond clicking pictures and identifying problems, yes it was how we device solutions to the problems.
The unicef Map. Click on the picture to view the real map.
Problem in our country is that most of us don't know a problem is a problem, and the few who could see the problem think it's not their problem. During the workshop we were shown inspiring documentaries from around the world about problems and people- about individuals and community who led changes, who became part of solution, who went beyond just complaining about the problems.

The participants were students from high schools and colleges and I was among the few teachers. The best part of working with young people is that they don't have preconceived doubts and therefore they aren't shy about trying. Soon they make us believe that it's all so possible, and believing is success half achieved.

After five days of inspiration in the BCMD Media Lab we identified issues in Thimphu community to address as our real project. The problems we shortlisted were;

  1. Management of waste party goers leave behind at Buddha Point
  2. Getting City Bus to Changedaphug (Kala Bazar)
  3. Campaigning against taking packaged food as Tshog (Offering) to Lhakhangs
  4. Appointing a community caretaker at a labour camp 
  5. City Bus vegetable vendors on stalls.
(Read about the projects in detail by clicking on the picture of the Map)

Any average citizen would say these are none of our business, but the workshop taught us to more than that, we started believing that every little issues within our community, within our country or the  world is our business. If we can bring a positive change we must do it. So for the next five days we were on the field researching, interviewing, seeking support, connecting people...
My Team with Thimphu Thrompon

On the last day we presented our project outcomes at the Tarayana hall filled with distinguished people who were themselves change makers, policy makers or people who had stake in the development of the city and its community. They all seemed very impressed and the stakeholder promised to render their support.
One striking quote from the presentations, a students said, " We came all the way from the east to put dustbins at Buddha Point". 

Bottom line is, if a streetlight is kept on during the day, some people will not notice at all, some will see and feel nothing, some will know it's waste of energy, some will click a picture and post it on Facebook or Twitter, in this workshop we were inspired to take the next step- to call the authority and inform them directly about it. This is one small change anyone can bring in a community.

During our field trip we saw a big log blocking the drain along the City Bus Parking. The log could clog the drain and during the monsoon it could flood the whole parking. Normally I would have just taken a picture of that log and posted on the Facebook, but this time I gathered my team and tried to take the log out. But it was too big for team of three men. Hundreds of people around the parking area just watched us with that's-not-our-business look. An Indian guy came by and told us that he will call his friends and do it. I was so touched until he asked 'How much is the budget?' So we went to the city office and asked for some labour to help us. There was no labour that day but they asked the location. Next day we went there to find the log was removed. 
Before
After
The workshop was conducted by Bhutan Center for Media and Democracy. I encourage Media Clubs in schools to get in touch with them and book your place for next segment of Community Mapping workshop. It can surely change you into change maker. Special Thanks to Tshering Eudon and Tsho Tsho for being such a great facilitator. 
 

Ninzi Meets Tandin Bidha

Tandin Bidha, one of the most happening Bhutanese actor was in Bajothang last weekend and by mistake I leaked the news to my four year old Bhutanese movie lover. I thought she won't have a clue about who is who in the so many movies she had watched but my god she could describe many scenes from many Tandin Bidha movies. So I sent a request message to the actor's husband, who is my dear friend, and fixed a ladies date.
I was going to take my daughter to meet the actor in the evening because right after school she needs a nap without which she gets very difficult but the excited little girl won't sleep without getting her demand done. With so much of hard work I put her to sleep and she muttered her sleeping wish with her eyes already closed: "I ....want to meet Tandin Bidha"  I gently ok-ed her to sleep.
It was the shortest nap my daughter ever took, and without wasting anytime I followed her instruction. My friend owns a shop in the town, where we had spent hundreds of hours discussing ways to change the world until one day the beauty came by and changed his world and his location too. There in that shop my friend and Tandin Bidha were waiting. It took a while for my little on to open up, and soon she was on Tandin Bidha's lap answering so many questions.
The Ladies
Later I came to know that my friend had summoned his wife the moment I messaged him and by the time I reached there She had already waited a few hours, leaving their own newborn at home. I felt so sorry but greatly thankful for doing this for her little fan. She has been talking about it ever since and every time we pass by their shop she would crane her neck to check inside. She will always cherish that moment, thank you Tandin and Tshering.
 

What's Mongar Court's Message to Schools in Bhutan?

Mongar Court has sent Ministers to jail and therefore a principal is no big deal. The judgement on the Gyalposhing land scam case sent a strong message. I don't know if it was a fair judgement but even if it was not at least everybody took a good message home. But with the principal's case there are several messages coming out. Even if the judgement was the fairest possible, the impact on the society could be unprecedented. The expected message to be taken is that corporal punishment is intolerable in schools, but there are hundreds of principals out there who are affected by the news. They must be hurt, they must be questioning and must be realizing that this could happen to them for just doing their duty.

By duty I am not saying that lashing students is their duty, their duty is to run the school well. Running the school means dealing with hundreds of young children, some of whom doesn't have sense of direction. The easiest thing to do would be to let it be. Let students do what they like, don't play parents, don't play police, don't play counselor, don't play judge and jury, don't just give a damn. Just go to the class and teach the curriculum. If there is an accident call the ambulance, if there is a fight call the police, if someone does drugs send them to jail, if there is a relationship among students call their parents and let them get married. But then school is more than that, every school has the moral duty to give every child a meaningful life.

They deserve to learn through mistakes, they deserve to stand corrected. No school will go lashing every troublesome child, but sometimes some children really need serious dealing because otherwise they are going to shatter their own dreams. Dealing with such students is no principal's favorite event. Every morning several students have to be summoned to the principal's office with different cases ranging from quarreling, stealing, fighting, smoking, drinking, doping, gang fighting... some students have their files filled with 'last warnings'
Some students ask for suspension because they want to skip school and have fun, and some even don't mind being terminated. A good principal's job is to make sure that these children don't leave school. The tempting world outside the school seems to care a lot but when these children are on their own they will realize that nobody cares about them, sometimes no even their own parents. We in the school know so much about the real world out of school and there we don't want our children to go unprepared.

I'm against corporal punishment and I'm more against mental punishment. We have dealt with children who would ask for any punishment except calling their parents. They say they will be thrown out of the house and removed from the census. When students are caught in gang fight and drug cases they beg the school to punish them any way the school likes but not to send them to the police. But we consider ourselves very wise and try the western style, we are expected to deal with them in a civilized behavior- yes we are expected to send them to jail! But we don't, we punish them, we watch them, we see them become better with few lashes. If they were sent to jail they would have never seen this life they are now living.
Principal in Jail
Mongar principal could have easily called the parents of the junior students and ask them to file a report with the police and arrest the senior for bullying and harassment. This could have saved so much of school's time and could have easily spared himself from all the problem. But the school took the responsibility to deal with the case, advice the boy and asked him to apologize. The boy took it lightly and went on to bully the junior further. The principal wired the boy and perhaps the boy may learn to fear the school rules now but the parents took the principal to the court and they won the case. Clap, clap, clap, their boy has leaned a good lesson in life, that his parents will watch his back at all times and he could go on misbehaving.

Thousands of young students across the country have heard the news that even a principal could be jailed for beating students. They must be feeling excited about it. These experimental young minds are made little fearless. And thousands of teachers must be reconsidering their roles as teachers, as caring teachers. Not to mention the hundreds of principals. If hundreds of students begin to revolt against school and take the principals and teachers to court hence I won't be surprised, I would thank Mongar court. Whatever is legally right need not necessarily be morally right.

By this I am not saying beating up students in any way is right, not all teachers and principals are as caring and good, some have cases of sexual molestation and some could be naturally violent against students for no good reason, some might thrash young children like their enemies; in such cases justice should prevail.

But we cannot go all american overnight to sue every little whip in the school just because there is a law against it. Some parents have natural court-going tendency and teachers are easy prey. We need protection too, we need legal wing in the ministry to protect us. Our job is getting more sensitive by the day and the more seriously we engage in our duties, the more vulnerable we become. We love our students, we care for them. Even in a family with two children parents resort to beating sometimes, we are family of hundreds of children.
 
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